In the wake of the major upheavals in Tunisia, commentators are pointing to the next flash points in the Middle East, identifying countries where repression, social inequality and food crises have contributed to a simmering, and now increasingly explosive situation.
Demonstrations, strikes and street battles have already started in Cairo and other cities in Egypt (follow them on the Guardian blog), and Lebanon is in the throes of its own political crisis, with the younger Hariri stepping down in favor of what will most likely be a Shiite (and some say Hezbollah) dominated government. Sunnis all over the country have reacted in fury and mass protests are ongoing.
How did it come to this, and can people power triumph elsewhere in the region in the way it did in Tunisia?
To delve deeper into this issue and the spectrum of challenges and deep-seated problems that their populations face, check out our resources on Egypt and Lebanon.
Since the beginning of renewed unrest and protests in Tunisia, the ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous has joined in support of the actions of Tunisians hacktivists by blocking some Tunisian websites.
As they say on one of their websites, Anonymous has entered the fight in Tunisia because “The arrests of several free speech activists and bloggers in recent days was deplorable. The punishing of people for simply expressing themselves politically was vile.” They also claim to be a “legion” that “cannot be stopped with the arrests of a few.” Or as one of the member of the group put it: “Tunisians can fight on the streets and Anonymous can’t. Anonymous can fight online but Tunisians can’t.”
This global “cyber-solidarity” with Tunisia is not surprising. The internet is a global good that is being used the world over. Moreover, it is not dangerous or particularly risky for people outside Tunisia to block government’s website there via Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks. It also makes sense for the “legion” of Anonymous hackers to be active in Tunisia as a way to promote free speech, free information and citizen-journalism. It is a globally visible, potentially effective and cheap way for this new breed of cyberactivists to make their mark on an issue that matters.
Some say that DDoS attacks like these are simply the cyber-version of doing a sit-in in front of a bank or a governmental building to make sure no one enters it. Although I disagree with this metaphor because doing a sit-in requires more political and organizational will than just clicking on a button on your computer, the mass of foreign hacktivist involved in Tunisia through groups such as Anonymous do believe they are showing solidarity with the Tunisian people and acting in accordance.
I had the chance to quickly chat with some of the Anonymous hacktivists on their channel, and many said that they believed that they have won a victory by forcing the Tunisian government to restrict the access to their website to Tunisians only. Anonymous are now moving to disrupt the e-mail accounts of government employee in an attempt to reduce their internal communication.
Most UN peace missions established during or after conflict need the permission of the host country in order to deploy international troops. Once deployed, UN operations come to play a formative role in helping to re-build the state apparatus. They operate by, among others, establishing the rule of law, providing security, jump-starting economic development programs, and helping the host government build its capacity to form functioning state institutions.
However, government consent does not necessarily translate into popular support for such a strong foreign presence, which can be seen by local populations as too intrusive and pugnacious. A recent wave of popular backlash against UN missions has brought into question the universality of the UN’s internationalist norms and practices.
In Sri Lanka, following the government’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers’ 25-year armed campaign for an independent Tamil state, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointed a three-member panel to advise him on allegations of human rights violations that allegedly occurred during the protracted conflict. Resistant, a Sri Lanka government cabinet minister, Wimal Weerawansa, calling on Ban Ki-Moon to dissolve the panel, is leading hundreds of Sri Lankans in protest outside the UN office in Colombo, blocking access to the UN offices as well as harassing and intimidating officials.
In the wake of a vehemently challenged election in Iran last Friday, the blogosphere and mainstream media outlets are on fire today.
With talk of a totally rigged election (and we’re not talking some lost ballots here), complete with rigged software counting the ‘votes’ of children and dead people, locals, bloggers and journalists are all weighing in on what happened in Iran and where we might go from here. The wildest, and to many the only acceptable, scenario involves the re-scheduling of the entire election due to massive fraud. But how likely is the hardline leadership in Iran to admit its mistake (or rather its crime) and allow for a rerun of the whole process? What happens if the results are allowed to stand? Are we witnessing a hardline ‘soft coup’, as our Tehran correspondent argued in an article published on 11 June, or is there still enough fire in the opposition movement to put the hardline plans under such pressure that they will have to cave in, one way or the other?
Here are some of the best sources for information and opinions on the topic:
Our Tehran correspondent, Kamal Nazer Yasin, has written an update, titled Days of Rage for the ISN, detailing the aftermath and likely outcomes of the current stand-off between Ahmadinejad and the opposition forces. The article gives unparalleled insight into the mood, news and events in Tehran as they unfold on the ground.
A blogger on Global Voices has posted Youtube videos of the protests as they unfolded last Friday and Saturday. This gives more insight into how the protests proceeded on the streets of Tehran. The chanting is loud and passionate and the crowds are massive.
Michael Tomasky, head of the Guardian’s America bureau has posted an impassioned blog on the election, detailing reasons for why he believes that the elections were rigged. In the Analysis section, the Guardian has also provided some more insights, showing just how muddy the statistics are in terms of vote counts.
Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty of the Washington Post urge caution and remind us that opinion polls three weeks before the election gave a 2 to 1 margin for Ahmadinejad, indicating that the results could be correct.
The Meedan site provides more information on the debate over the election results- both a case for and a case against, as well as supporting sources and links.
Some striking pictures, courtesy of the Foreign Policy Passport blog, from Tehran on Monday. The opposition forces, it seems, are still alive and well (and growing).
Alan Taylor of the Boston Globe has put together a fascinating slideshow on the protests. Please be warned that the last three images contain graphic content.